One hectare of undisturbed raised bog stores around 3,000 tonnes of carbon. This is 10 times the equivalent area of rainforest. The total carbon stored in Irish bogs is about 2.22 billion tonnes. Half of that amount is contained in the few undisturbed bogs and bogs that were cut only at the edges. However, drained bogs release carbon (Renou-Wilson et al). For example, degradation switches peatlands from being carbon stores and sinks to carbon sources, and estimates indicate that degraded peatlands will contribute 8% of the global anthropogenic CO2 emissions by 2050 (Urák et al. 2017). In addition, degradation results in reduced water quality, changes in regulation
of water flow and loss of biodiversity (Martin-Ortega et al. 2014, 2021).
According to a recent paper ( doi: 10.1111/rec.13632 ) peatland restoration, and wetland restoration in general, is viewed as a cost-effective nature-based solution, assisting in the conservation of wetland habitats, while also serving to reduce negative trends in ecosystem services (Bonn et al. 2016; Maes et al. 2020). Ireland is a global hotspot for peatlands, with over 20% of the national territory covered by peatland or peat soils (Connolly & Holden 2009). Conversion of peatlands to other land uses (agriculture, conifer plantation and/or peat extraction) ongoing since the 18th Century has been one of the main pressures resulting in drainage and loss of typical peatland vegetation. Combined with additional pressures, including overgrazing, burning, recreational use, and the development of renewable energy infrastructure (solar and wind farms), these activities have resulted in the overall degradation of more than 80% of Irish peatland ecosystems (Connolly 2019). All peatland types listed under Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive are considered to be of unfavourable-bad conservation status since the start of reporting in 2007 (NPWS 2019).
The authors of this study developed a risk register for peatlands in two contrasting catchments in Ireland, based on available information relating to peatland stocks (extent and condition) and flows (services and benefits) as well as knowledge of pressures. One of these areas is the peatlands in northwest Kildare, which includes Lullymore and Lullybeg. This approach allowed for the identification of areas to target peatland restoration, by highlighting the potential to reduce and reverse negative trends in relation to provisioning, regulating and cultural services, flows relating to non-use values, as well as abiotic flows (such as drinking water). The authors also highlighted ways to reduce and reverse the effects of historical and ongoing pressures through restoration measures, aligning their approach with that outlined in the SER International Principles and Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration.
The drive towards peatland restoration is being applied by the state through Bord na Móna. The aim of the Peatlands Climate Action Scheme (PCAS) being implemented by Bord na Móna on about 33,000 hectares of its landholding is to optimise climate action benefits of rewetting the former industrial peat production areas by creating soggy peatland conditions that will allow compatible peatland habitats to redevelop. The scheme follows the announcement by Bord na Móna of the cessation of peat production on all their bogs. Under the Integrated Pollution Control Licence issued to Bord na Móna by the Environmental Protection Agency, Bord na Móna is obliged under Condition-10 of this licence, to decommission and rehabilitate bogs when industrial peat production ceases.
In line with Bord na Móna’s accelerated decarbonisation strategy, and the availability of government funding, the company has also committed to ambitious enhanced peatland decommissioning, rehabilitation and restoration measures, targeting circa 33,000 hectares in over 80 Bord na Móna bogs. These measures are currently underway on several of their bogs, such as Castlegar Bog, County Galway, Belmont Bog, County Offaly and Clooniff Bog, County Roscommon.
Among the rehabilitation goals and outcomes on many of these bogs, including Garryduff Bog, County Galway is optimising hydrological conditions for the further development of wetland, Reed swamp, wet woodland, fen habitats and embryonic Sphagnum-rich peatland communities on shallow cutaway peats, along with management of existing wetlands.
Rehabilitation will support the National Policies on Climate Action and Greenhouse gas mitigation by maintaining and enhancing the current residual peat storage capacity of the bog (locking the carbon into the ground).
It is expected that the bog will have reduced emissions (reduced source) as it develops naturally functioning wetland and peatland habitats. It will also support Ireland’s commitments towards Water Framework Directive and the National River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021.
While climate action is the main objective of the rehabilitation measures, the plan expects the measures to support biodiversity.
Enhanced rehabilitation measures, which go beyond Bord na Móna’s obligations under its EPA licence, are being carried out under the PCAS scheme. On Garryduff Bog these measures, which are like those on other bogs, are drain blocking, building berms and re-profiling of the peat surface to slow water movement and retain water, turning off or reducing pump use, blocking outfalls, planting sphagnum, planting reeds, seeding of areas of bare peat slow to recover vegetation. The rehabilitation plans are adjusted to consider the biodiversity that has developed on some areas of the cutaway bog such as the presence of sensitive ground-nesting bird breeding species (e.g., breeding waders) or larval webs of Marsh Fritillary butterfly and to avoid damaging archaeology and flooding of adjoining land.
Post-rehabilitation monitoring is planned to determine the effectiveness of the measures applied, and interventions will be undertaken if needed.
In relation to Garryduff Bog, which is close to several protected sites, the future looks positive. The Rehabilitation plan states:
Any consideration of any other future after-uses for Garryduff Bog, such as amenity, will be conducted in adherence to the relevant planning guidelines and consultation with relevant authorities and will be considered within the framework of this rehabilitation plan.
This statement occurs in the rehabilitation plans for other Bord Móna bogs.
However, the measures will not restore the sites to undisturbed raised bog within our lifetime. The development of active raised bogs occurs over a period greater than 1000 years, and Bord na Móna estimates that it will take 30-50 years for naturally functioning peatland ecosystems to re-establish.
It is vital that these bogs be allowed to recover so that the peat holds instead of releasing carbon, improves rather than damages water quality, gains and retains instead of losing biodiversity, and it is vital that the few undamaged bogs remain uncut.
It is not easy to put the jigsaw back together when it takes so long to find regenerate the lost pieces.
Butterfly Conservation Ireland along with six other environmental organisations is pressing for the bogs in northwest Kildare referenced in doi: 10.1111/rec.13632 to be declared a national park. These bogs have not been included in PCAS but hold exceptional biodiversity, and currently have five nature reserves, including Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s Crabtree Reserve. For more information on this initiative, go to https://www.nationalpeatlandspark.com/
Bonn A., Allott T, Evans M, Joosten H, Stoneman R (2016) Peatland restoration and ecosystem services: an introduction. In: Bonn A, Allot T, Evans M, Joosten J, Stoneman R (eds) Peatland restoration and ecosystem services: science, policy and practice. Cambridge University Press, pp.1-16
Connolly J, Holden NM (2009) Mapping peat soils in Ireland: updating the derived Irish peat map. Irish Geography 42: 343-352 https://doi.org/10.1080/00750770903407989
Martin-Ortega J, Allott TH, Glenk K, Schaafsma M (2014) Valuing water quality improvements from peatland restoration: Evidence and challenges. Ecosystem Services 9: 34‑43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2014.06.007
NPWS (2019) The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland. Volume 1: Summary Overview. NPWS. URL:
Renou-Wilson, F. (n.d.). Peatland Properties Influencing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removal. [online] www.apa.ie. County Wexford: EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.ie/publications/research/land-use-soils-and-transport/Research_Report_401.pdf [Accessed 15 Feb. 2022].
Urák I, Hartel T, Gallé R, Balog A (2017) Worldwide peatland degradations and the related carbon dioxide emissions: the importance of policy regulations. Environmental Science & Policy 69: 57-64.